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The Year of Magical Thinking Paperback – February 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
After her husband's fatal heart attack, which came at a time when their daughter Quintana was in intensive care for complications after pneumonia, Didion was labeled "a pretty cool customer" by a social worker because she seemed to be handling these shocks so calmly. Caruso's reading certainly reflects this aspect of Didion's reaction—sometimes her clear, elegant voice seems downright cold, making the listener wish for a little more emotion. The slightly eerie sounds of bells and cello that swell in at occasional breaks in the narration help in this respect, but mostly the audiobook is as straightforward a production as Didion wanted her life to be in that horrible year. Throughout those months, Didion immersed herself in the literature of grief and quotes frequently from poets and writers who helped her come to terms with her pain. Caruso does a good job with these passages, lingering on and highlighting certain phrases that Didion returns to time and again, shifting their meaning slightly as she progresses. Despite trying to write in an almost clinically detached way, Didion's sorrow and anger do break through at times in the book. Unfortunately, Caruso's cool reserve never cracks, so this audio ends up making less of an impact than the National Book Award– winning print edition.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne's death, Quintana's illness, and Didion's efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. "She's a pretty cool customer," one hospital worker says of her, and, certainly, coolness was always part of the addictive appeal of Didion's writing. The other part was the dark side of cool, the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad. In 2004, Didion had her own disasters to deal with, and she did not, she feels, deal with them coolly, or even sanely. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Part of Joan Didion's truthfulness is in dealing with her own avoidance of grief, and the extent to which an extremely intelligent, ever-thinking person will go to escape facing pain. But halfway through this short book, only 105 pages from the end, I almost gave it up, and I'm not sure I'm glad that I didn't. The endless facts, medical explanations, and most of all, Joan's continuous detachment from any emotion, left me feeling beat up and worn down. Yes, it even annoyed me a little. I give her all the credit in the world for approaching her task. Her love for her husband and daughter is extraordinarily apparent by the picture she paints of them, but she still comes through as only an observer. "The Year of Magical Thinking" is written in the first person, but not for a split second do we get a glimpse of any sensitivity coming from her. She only looks, thinks, and writes. But who is Joan, and what is going on inside her? Anything at all??
Buddhists have a valuable outlook on death. They meditate on it regularly, often among the bodies of the departed. Not viewed as morbid or surprising, death informs them how to appreciate life. In the West, we are always stunned by death, and instead of being always ready to accept it, by being kind to one another, knowing how quickly and unexpectedly a lifetime ends, we spend all our energy denying its existence, even after we've lost someone we love. And now we have a bestseller that tells all, except that it's normal and right to feel the pain.
Whatever else this book might be, it is definitely NOT a thesis on how best to deal with death and tragedy. And despite all the praise, "Magical Thinking" will not be everyone's cup of tea.
When my dearest husband died, I lost days, forget phone numbers, people's names, whether I showered. Reading this book provides me with somber reality that not just myself had entered the dark whirlpool of which I was too weak and lost to find my way out. This book as allowed me to read about my own road of grief... Which is not close to ending. And
Superb book, thank you. M
Sad, because, nine months ago, we lost my beloved father. I've had to watch my Mom grieve the end of one of life's grand love affairs - the passionate love affair between my parents, which lasted nearly 60 years.
Illuminating because, at times, Didion expresses her personal grieving in such a universal way that her loss became my Mother's loss. Didion gave a voice to the process of grief that my Mom, a widow, is experiencing and which I, a still-married daughter, have not yet experienced.
That Dunne brought deep meaning into Didion's life is unquestionable; her struggle to control or somehow change the events of that year, at times, makes fascinating reading because one senses that her emotions, her sens of loss are deep so that if she touched on them, she probably wouldn't cope.
But, while reading, I was struck by another level of sadness: at the hospital, which declared her husband dead, the social worker said of Didion's reaction, "It's okay; she's a pretty cool customer."
I constantly found myself asking, where ARE her emotions? What IS she feeling?
She could, and did, articulate the practical details of her year of grieving in microscopic detail, but there were times when I found her determined and strong-willed focus on medical facts, and the logistics of Dunne's death and her daughter's illness, disconcerting. Understandable, yes, and sad because it suggested a desperate attempt at mastering her overwhelming loss, but still disconcerting. She is, as the social worker said, "a pretty cool customer," and she manages to keep her deepest emotions very private.
The title of the book explains a lot: THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. "Magical" to me has a wondrous, positive connotation; the word implies exciting events that take the ordinary and somehow transform them into the extraordinary. I only understood how Didion could apply it to the year following the death of her husband, a year in which her only child lay dying, when I looked up the meaning in the dictionary for this review.
Rather than the magic in her title meaning `an enchanting quality or phenomenon' or `wonderful, exciting,' the MAGICAL in Didion's title relies more on the definition of "magic" as `the supposed art of influencing the course of events by the occult control of nature or of the spirits.'
Because, to me, that's where the sadness in this book really lies: Didion's desperate desire to influence, to change by some power she didn't have, the death of her husband. And, even when, she couldn't "bring him back," she still had to go through the process of accepting that death is a part of life. That no matter how privileged, or intelligent, or talented, or lucky one is, no matter how many famous names one can drop, death comes to us all: "Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust." (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act IV, Sc ii)
For Didion, there was no magic in her year of grieving. No amount of intellectualising her grief could change that ordinary moment when, at the dinner table, her beloved husband died. He was gone and, to resume her life, she had to "relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead" and move into a future beyond grief and beyond mourning.